As we kicked off our celebration of The Free Press 125th anniversary with a free lunch in Jackson Square park Friday, we’re reminded that all the stories we’ve been able to tell over the years wouldn’t happen without readers.
The currency of a community newspaper is connecting with the community, readers and non-readers alike, and after talking with some of the folks who showed up for our Friday lunch, the realization hits one that The Free Press has many, many loyal readers.
When you asked people how long they have been subscribers, a smile comes their face as they say things like “forever” and for “50 or 60 years.”
They can prove it too. One reader told us the best opinion page we ever had was one done by the late publisher Franklin Rogers. They remember people like Bill Altnow, our legendary photographer now retired, who chronicled nearly every significant high school sports game for decades.
Talk about the floods of the 1950s, 1965, 1993, 1997, 2003, and 2010, and you’ll hear an anecdote from readers who lived through it. We even learned news we hadn’t known about before on how someone’s house was surrounded by water or that they worried the crumbling Red Jacket trestle might come crashing into their home.
Our longtime readers remember the old Free Press building. Many were surprised to see the multi-ton granite monument in Jackson Square with the name L.P. Hunt — a tribute to the first Free Press publisher. The monument once held a place above the door to the old Free Press building.
They don’t build structures like that anymore. We’ll be publishing a picture of the old building with the granite transom in our commemorative edition included in Sunday’s newspaper.
It’s been quite an undertaking with longtime newsroom employee Edie Schmierbach taking the lead.
We’ve gone through old pictures, revisited old stories and even interviewed some longtime Free Press employees past and present.
Reporters and editors who have since left the paper wrote in with essays about their memories of having worked at The Free Press and recollections of the biggest stories they’ve covered.
When I talked to people at the informal lunch, you could see eyes light up when they heard we’d be publishing five sections of a commemorative edition with the Sunday paper.
It seems Mankato area residents have a real affinity for their history. Many have families that have lived in the area for decades, even across centuries. History, it seems, is always a good read.
A newspaper is a ledger of sorts, tracking the ups and downs of a community’s history. The reporters and editors may be the storytellers, but there wouldn’t be many stories without readers.
Joe Spear is the editor of The Free Press. Contact him at 344-6382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.